Interview: Carlos Brooks on “Quid Pro Quo”

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06132008_quidproquo1.jpgBy Matt Singer

“I wanted to do something completely original and different that I hadn’t seen before,” said Carlos Brooks of his feature directorial debut. Though grounded in the traditions of detective fiction and film noir, Brooks’ “Quid Pro Quo” is indeed something wholly its own; a film that lives inside those genres’ boundaries while carving its own unique place outside them. In the film, Nick Stahl plays Isaac, a paraplegic public radio host who gets an anonymous tip about a guy who tried to bribe a doctor into amputating his leg. Researching the story introduces him to an underground (and evidently authentic) community of “wannabes” who desperately wish to be paralyzed, and to a mysterious blonde named Fiona (Vera Farmiga).

Before the thriller elements begin to congeal, “Quid Pro Quo” is particularly appealing in its detailed view of Isaac’s day-to-day existence; the way in which, for instance, he can’t work an umbrella and his wheelchair at the same time when he’s caught in the rain. But Brooks was quick to point out that those scenes are not about pity. “It isn’t that we should feel sorry for him,” Brooks said, “because Isaac doesn’t feel sorry for himself. But getting passed by — that’s a universal image that every human being can relate to. I wanted to defeat those unconscious barriers between able-bodied and disabled people so we could get into who this character really is.” I spoke with the first-time director about his impressive debut on the phone from Los Angeles, where he’s already prepping his next film.

What was the origin of this project?

I initially had this idea of somebody who would be impaired in some way and would get some sort of talisman that would help them overcome that impairment, and in return for that gift I thought they’d have to help the person who impaired them in the first place. I wrote a few outlines and it just never came to life. I finally settled on a story about a person with a paraplegic injury, and one night I started Googling some word that I thought would get me into that world more authentically and found these people who suffer from what’s called body integrity disorder, or “wannabes.”

06132008_quidproquo2.jpgDid you watch other movies with disabled protagonists to prepare to make “Quid Pro Quo?”

Of course. You’ve got to go back to “Coming Home,” which I think is one of the finest films made that show people with disability. A lot of movies that I wouldn’t name do a really poor job of showing characters in that regard. They suffer from what I suffered from in the beginning of my outlines; I assumed I was more comfortable with [physical] disability than I was. In reality, I was writing about it rather than trying to imagine myself in that world writing from it. A lot of movies are just about [the disability] — the characters are just used as devices for sympathy. There’s a Hollywood tendency to show the hero, to prove he’s a good guy, stopping off at the home of a lady who uses a wheelchair to bring her groceries, which is absurd — she can get in her own car and drive to the store and get her groceries.

The movie looks unusually warm and romantic for something shot digitally. How did you achieve that?

We did some things that, to my mind, no one’s ever consciously done before. I shot on a Sony 900 camera, and we used the 950 for a few scenes where it was a tight space. My production designer, Roshelle Berliner, and the [director of photography] Michael McDonough, and I experimented with shiny metallic surfaces to trick the video lens into thinking it’s film. I don’t know why this works, but it does. It tricks the chip in the video camera into softening those hard video lines and edges. If you walked on the set, you would think it’s the strangest looking place because Isaac’s apartment was full of wallpaper with metallic inlays. But on video, it looks like film. It gives it this Sidney Lumet-circa-“The Verdict” look, and that’s what I wanted.

Why was that?

I wanted Isaac to be in a very comfortable place during the story. I wanted his world to be something of his own creation, a place he felt he’d really come to master. I could have shot it in a more cinema vérité way, and said, “Let’s not design the sets. Let’s go run and gun and shoot handheld.” On one hand, that style of shooting can forgive a multitude of sins, because whatever you do, you’re just being “real.” On the other hand, it would not have been nearly as inviting as what we came up with finally. I wanted the film to be much more seductive.

06132008_quidproquo3.jpgGiven that this was your first feature, did you set any rules for yourself as a director before you started shooting?

I had all kinds of fancy ideas. I wrote a whole 500-page book with notes for myself on every scene that I could flip to while shooting or editing. I called it “The Prompt Book.” I got that from watching “The Godfather” DVD; Coppola does this. The categories were like “What’s the core of the scene?” or “What’s the practical purpose of the scene?” or “What’s the tone?” My favorite one was “What are the pitfalls?” How many different ways can I screw it up? When you shoot it, you realize “Nope, didn’t think of that.” [laughs]

One idea I had was the camera would always stay on the wheelchair level when Isaac is using his chair. Then when he stands, the camera will stand with him so we will feel that elevation and the liberation from that lower level. Those are great ideas, but at the end of the day, those are conceits. When I was actually shooting in my 18-day schedule in every borough in Manhattan, I began to understand that the movie is not about staying in some sort of physical point of view. It’s more important that I figured out his emotional point of view. Plus, when you’re moving that fast, the rules get thrown out. I forgot about even having the rule in the first place.

When you showed the movie at places like Sundance, what was the most popular question at Q & A’s?

[Regarding the “wannabes”] “Have you ever spoken to these people?” or “Are they real?” It’s really centered around this phenomenon. There’s no way around it. There’s something about this phenomenon, as specific and small as anything can be — was there ever a smaller subject matter that related to a smaller group of people? — but there’s something about it that strikes some universal chord. I can talk and talk about all kinds of things with you, but the bottom line is the thrust of the story is going to be this thing that fascinated me in the first place.

That said, have you gotten wind of any reaction from the real wannabe community about the movie?

No, not much. I think people like that tend to have a very online kind of reality. I’m sure there are people, I just haven’t met them.

So no opening night screening parties or anything?

[laughs] With the catering and the whole thing? No, but you never know…

[Photo: Nick Stahl; Stahl and Vera Farmiga; Director Carlos Brooks on set – “Quid Pro Quo,” Magnolia Pictures, 2008]

“Quid Pro Quo” is now open in limited release.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.